Townies Beat LaSalle 41-0 Thanksgiving Day (with an asterisk)
The oldest Rhode Island Thanksgiving Day football rivalry is in jeopardy of continuing. The 89th annual Thanksgiving Day football game between the East Providence Townies and LaSalle Rams ended in a 41-0 drubbing of the Rams albeit with an asterisk after the box score. LaSalle rested most starters as they will play for the Super Bowl later this week.
Sources close to the East Providence-LaSalle Thanksgiving Day rivalry confirm that many think the annual game is close to ending anyway. It has been dying a slow death. The RI Interscholastic League Principal’s Committee on Athletics voted to change the state football playoff format a few years back. "Beginning in the fall (2014) all Thanksgiving Day “League games” must be played during the regular season. As a result, all semifinal games will be played on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The traditional Thanksgiving Day games can be played, as in the past, but as “non- league” games. Divisional championship games will be played a minimum of seven days after Thanksgiving," said the league's full time director Tom Mezzanotte.
Although the two schools started turkey day play in 1927 (EP won 6-0), there was no game in 1928 and the league “started” in 1929 with a LaSalle 19-6 win. Unlike many of the other high school Thanksgiving Day rivalries in Rhode Island, the EP-LaSalle game often had direct impact on the state championship playoff system.
But now teams are reluctant to play starters very much on Thanksgiving Day with the possibility of a playoff or a super bowl game to follow. In fact football teams are told by the league to start practicing early in the summer with a rumor out there that the state may want to complete all super bowl action before Thanksgiving Day.
Additionally, many at LaSalle no longer consider EP-LaSalle a "rivalry." LaSalle is more smitten with measuring up to fellow catholic school power Hendricken in Warwick. "Our kids and many alumni no longer look at East Providence as a rival," a LaSalle administrator recently said. "It's Hendricken." It has become virtually impossible for public schools to compete with the "borderless" private schools in the area.
LaSalle is scheduled to play Hendricken once again for the state championship in Division 1 next week. While Hendricken chose to remain idle this Thanksgiving, LaSalle had a game but understandably sat most starters against East Providence. Although a lopsided contest, East Providence played a good game. "A win is a win and East Providence looked great from end to end. Our kids played well and with a lot of heart. I think that today we would have been tough to beat for anyone. Hopefully with many returning players, we'll be competitive next year," said Townie head coach Jay Monteiro after the game. Monteiro also told his players how LaSalle coaches told him that EP played LaSalle as tough as Hendricken did earlier in the season.
The Townies Juan Dias scored three touchdowns on impressive 20, 30 and 50 yard runs. The Townies also scored on a 50 yard Justin Pena returned interception and a Jaren Alves 42 interception return. Nick Oliveira was very impressive with 5 point after touchdown kicks.
LaSalle non-starters were held scoreless and the Townie defense played exceptionally well. Although Townie fans were mostly pleased with the win, many bemoaned the demise of the once majestic holiday game. "It's a shame what the interscholastic league has done to ruin the tradition of Thanksgiving with this contest," said former Townie all-stater from the 1970's, Jim Rose. "LaSalle played to lose."
Even some LaSalle alumni are not thrilled with the impending end of this oldest in Rhode Island traditional game. Social media posts were abuzz throughout the holiday weekend with opinions. East Providence resident and former LaSalle player Jonathan Pangborn commented that "the league has ruined not only this long standing tradition but all Thanksgiving rivalries. It's a shame. We live in NE and expect to play in inclement weather. I lived in Ep but played for LaSalle...I remember arriving and leaving...we were booed and I loved it. It was what it was back then. This game use to mean the winner was going to the playoffs and even if it didn’t, I know we practiced at least once a week just for this game. It really is sad and I can see it coming to an end in the next couple of years. Kids these days don’t even realize how special this game use to be," he lamented.
The 2017 crowd was relatively large, especially on the East Providence side. It wasn't the 8-10,000 people who used to attend in the past but fans loved the action and as always the famous Townie marching band entertained the festive crowd along with cheerleaders and flag corps.
Many alumni were at the game including Townie scholar/athletes Phil and Joel Hazard and family here from their Georgia home. Joel Hazard a Townie and Boston College graduate is now a Vice Principal in Georgia. "So great to be home for the holiday but we're concerned with the watering down of this great tradition," echoed both Hazards.
"It is incredible to see so many friends and Townies here said the 70's all-state football star Mike Whittet. He hasn't missed a game since his state champion years and the list went on. Bobby Good, Matt Lopes, Bill Irons and countless other Townie grads. Becky Rodericks, EP class of 2000 valedictorian, Brown Graduate and now living in Hawaii, was home for the weekend and enjoying the game and seeing old friends.
Sitting on the Townie side of Pierce was Ken Otis, a 1984 East Providence graduate. Otis was wearing an EP cap but a LaSalle shirt. "I'm an EP grad but I have kids that went to LaSalle," said Otis. Then he pointed to the Ram side and said, "I like to say my money is over there (tuitions) but my heart is over here," to smiles from family and nearby fans.
East Providence is currently tied with LaSalle for the most state championships in R.I. with 15 each. Cranston East follows with 14 and Hendricken has 13 titles. Hendricken, the winner of the last 7 SuperBowls will play LaSalle in the 2017 SuperBowl.
It should be noted that the move away from regular season games on Thanksgiving Day was not a decision solely of league administrators. The Principal's Committee on Athletics, consisting of school principals were responsible for the 2014 vote to change history. East Providence and LaSalle were the only schools to oppose such a move. All other schools went along with league recommended changes. As many fans recalled after this years' win, the season isn't really judged until the Thanksgiving game. A win over LaSalle takes precedence over any other prior game. But for now, Townie fans like to say that turkey always tastes better after a win over LaSalle. Townie taste buds were happy this Thanksgiving.